Uganda: Stella Nyanzi’s next hearing set for 26 June

English PEN joins our colleagues at PEN International and PEN Uganda is continuing to call for all charges against academic Dr Stella Nyanzi to be dropped.

Dr Nyanzi’s next court hearing – where she is expected to begin her defence – will take place on 26 June 2019. Dr Nyanzi was arrested on 2 November 2018 and charged with ‘cyber harassment’ and ‘offensive communication.’ The charges are based on messages she posted on Facebook criticising Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni (and his mother). At her first trial hearing on 9 November 2018, Dr Nyanzi was remanded in custody and has remained there ever since; she faces up to one year in prison if convicted. Dr Nyanzi was previously arrested and charged with the same offences in April 2017, also in connection with alleged Facebook posts about President Museveni.

PEN believes that the charges against Dr Nyanzi are a violation of her right to freedom of expression, which, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Uganda is obliged to protect.

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Please send appeals urging the Ugandan authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against Dr. Stella Nyanzi and release her;
  • Comply with their obligations to protect freedom of expression as enshrined in the Ugandan Constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Uganda is a state party.

Please write to:

Mr. Mike Chibita Director of Public Prosecutions Directorate of Public Prosecutions Workers House, Plot 1 Pilkington Road Kampala, Ugandamike.chibita@dpp.go.ug

Major General (rtd) Kahinda Otafiire Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Bauman House, Plot 5, Parliament Avenue P. O. Box 7183 Kampala, Uganda Fax: +25641254829 Email: info@justice.go.ug

Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Uganda in your country. A list of embassies can be found here.

Background

Writer, academic and feminist activist Dr Stella Nyanzi was arrested on 2 November 2018 and charged with ‘cyber harassment’ and ‘offensive communication’. This followed messages she posted on Facebook in September 2018 about President Yoweri Museveni’s mother. Following a trial hearing on 9 November 2018, Dr Nyanzi was remanded in custody, and has remained there ever since. She is currently being held in Luzira Women’s Prison. If convicted, she faces up to one year in jail.

Dr Nyanzi, a fierce, public critic of President Museveni, is a practitioner of ‘radical rudeness,’ a traditional Ugandan strategy for unsettling the powerful through the tactical use of public insult. Her use of language is often colourful and sometimes shocking: some of the messages she allegedly posted on Facebook imply that Uganda would have been better off if the president had died at birth and include graphic descriptions of Museveni’s mother’s birth canal.

Dr. Nyanzi is charged under section 24 and 25 of the Computer Misuse Act, 2011. Section 25 states:

‘Any person who wilfully and repeatedly uses electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication whether or not a conversation ensues commits a misdemeanour and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-four currency points (480,000) or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.’

In April 2017, Dr Nyanzi was arrested and charged under the same legislation with insulting the president and violating his right to privacy after she posted messages on Facebook that described him as ‘a pair of buttocks’ and his wife, Janet, as ’empty-brained.’ According to news reports, that trial has not concluded.

Dr Nyanzi has suffered a series of health problems whilst in detention: in 2017, after she was first placed in Luzira Women’s Prison, the authorities tried to force her to undergo a psychiatric examination; around the same time, she also contracted malaria (prisoners were not allowed mosquito nets); in late 2018, after her second arrest, Dr Nyanzi says she suffered a miscarriage in jail.

Commenting on Dr Nyanzi’s case, Danson Kahyana, president of PEN Uganda, said:

Freedom of expression is fundamental to the functioning of every democracy; for this reason, a person’s views – however radical they are – should call for dialogue and debate rather than demonisation and incarceration in a true democracy.

Violations of free expression in Uganda are rampant. Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 Press Freedom Index downgraded the country, ranking it 117 out of 180 countries (having previously ranked it 112 in 2017 and 102 in 2016). In a 2017 interview, Dr Nyanzi told PEN International:

For those of us whose articulations criticise the government and its actors, those of us who question the status quo, those of us who expose the numerous everyday violations of citizens’ rights, those of us who resist and defy the system, their spaces for freedom of expression are shutting down fast. Gags, censors, intimidation, fines, threats, arrests, beatings, detention, raids, confiscation of materials, bans of our works, are increasing vices that the government metes out against us.

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